I’ve commentated on my fair share of memorable football games in the past quarter of a century but nothing will go down in history like Sunday 1 October.
We’d all seen the troubled pictures from the city of Barcelona and quite frankly I couldn’t imagine how a game of football could possibly take place amid the chaos.
It did, and upon reflection I think it was probably a good thing; but I’ve had a week to reflect and the consequences of not postponing the game are probably wise. More on that later.
About ninety minutes before the game, word came through that the match was to be suspended. What did that mean? Played at a later date, a later time? It became apparent that Barcelona may have to concede the points and maybe have another three deducted.
Pako Ayestarán, the new coach of Las Palmas was very sharp - here was a chance to get three points in his first week in charge so he went through the box ticking exercises.
Around the world TV schedulers were busy finding something to fill the time allocated for the live airing of the Liga game. It’s no secret that at Sky Sports we don’t commentate on every game from the stadium and we take in the satellite feed. My co-commentator, Gerry Armstrong, and I were stood down, the game was taken off the schedules and an alternative filler was sought.
Experience has taught me not to believe everything I hear so I suggested to the producer that we should look at the satellite feed which was about to come live to the Sky engineering department, even though journalists inside the ground had assured us that the game was off.
As the picture settled on a vast empty stadium we could see ant like figures emerging from the tunnel. The Spanish director crashed in to discover it was the Las Palmas players. Next, the Las Palmas Twitter feed announced their starting eleven. Pako had got wind that something was happening inside the corridors of power and was ensuring that his new team was prepared.
Magically, the Barcelona team sheet appeared on the satellite feed and then the goalkeepers started warming up. Still, it was radio silence from inside the Camp Nou.
The TV schedulers reverted to plan A and we were poised to commentate on a game that was going to take place behind closed doors. I still wasn’t convinced that the game was going ahead and we had Guillem Balague, our Catalonia-born Spanish football expert, on hand to fill the air time. Although proud of his region, he’s not on the independence front-line. I thought about squaring him up to my son who has just returned from Barcelona with radical ideas having studied a Masters in Catalan Studies.
Luckily the British public was spared as the players emerged from the tunnel. The footballing history books will tell you that Barcelona won the game three-nil to remain at the top of the Liga table.
My heart goes out to the fans who’d travelled from around the globe to witness the game but ended up locked outside. My thoughts are with those involved with the heavy-handed police in Catalonia. My initial reasoning was that a game shouldn’t take place in these circumstances. I thought a game of football in that environment was unwise.
Upon reflection, it was probably the correct decision. Deducted points and football issues would have become a talking point rather than what was actually going on in the region. The debate would have raged for months and maybe years. Instead it was just a game of football and the focus remains on the politics.
I’m selling tickets for Guillem versus Master Palmer if anyone’s interested?